The recognition of environmental law as a globally significant subject began in the 1970s. In 1972, the Stockholm Conference on the Environment led to the codification of the Declaration of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment and its twenty-six principles, paving the way for the future development of international environmental law.
Almost two decades later, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was established. The treaty did not establish specific restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions for Member States. However, it does provide a framework for the development of future protocols, encompassing binding limitations. In 1997, perhaps the most widely recognized international environmental instrument, the Kyoto Protocol, was adopted pursuant to the UNFCCC. Unlike its predecessor, the Kyoto Protocol does set internationally binding greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets. The Protocol specifically places a higher burden on developed states to reduce harmful emissions under the concept of “common but differentiated responsibilities.”
The scope of international environmental law extends far beyond what is covered in these treaties to issues including: global warming, depletion of the ozone layer, desertification, destruction of tropical rain forests, pollution, endangered species, poaching, shipping of hazardous waste to developing states, deforestation, depletion of drinkable water, use of pesticides and industrial social responsibility. It is readily apparent that international environmental law intersects with other fields of international law including trade and human rights.